The New York Times
Afterlandsby Steven Heighton
In 1871, nineteen men, women, and children, voyaging on the Arctic explorer USS Polaris found themselves cast adrift on an ice floe as their ship began to founder. Based on one of the most remarkable events in polar history, Afterlands tells the haunting story of this small society of castaways -- a white and a black American, five Germans, a Dane, a Swede, an… See more details below
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In 1871, nineteen men, women, and children, voyaging on the Arctic explorer USS Polaris found themselves cast adrift on an ice floe as their ship began to founder. Based on one of the most remarkable events in polar history, Afterlands tells the haunting story of this small society of castaways -- a white and a black American, five Germans, a Dane, a Swede, an Englishman, and two Inuit families -- and the harrowing six months they spend marooned in the Arctic, struggling to survive both the harsh elements and one another. As the group splinters into factions along ethnic and national lines, rivalries -- complicated by sexual desire, unrequited love, extreme hunger, and suspicion -- begin to turn violent. Steven Heighton's provocative novel fills in the blanks of the Polaris's documented history and explores the shattering emotional and psychological consequences faced by those who survive.
The New York Times
"Skillfully constructed, beautifully written...Afterlands is a superior example of a rare breed: the literary adventure story." --Book World The Washington Post
"A big, ambitious literary adventure tale full of blood, gristle, and soul...Afterlands conveys in stark yet beautiful prose the awful reality of what happens both on the ice and in [the soul]." Guardian
"A magnificent novel about the wreckage of history -- both the history that happens to us and the versions of it we create." The New York Times Book Review
"A sophisticated, densley layered fictional exploration of survival, love, betrayal, adn the personal cost of history...a novel of big ideas and beautiful language." The New York Times Book Review
"Compelling, vividly imagined, and written in rich and precise prose...But the real force of the book comes from the currents of history -- of young nations rising and ancient civilizations ebbing -- that run just below the surface." The Financial Times of London
"Unforgettable...a big, wide, deep book...an intensely felt fiction." The Globe and Mail
"A masterpiece, packed to the rafters with sumptuous language, sweeping vistas, contained fury, sorrow, and unrequited love." --Daily Express (UK)
"A terrific read...Heighton excels in telling a tale of hardship, madness, love, loyalty, and sacrifice." --Irish Examiner
"A wonderful, whiteout epic." Gentleman's Quarterly
"A rich tale...a story of grand human passions...a subtle portrait of qualified heroism and ambiguous villainy." --Sunday Times (South Africa)
"Superb...There's nail-biting adventure, unforgettable character studies, lessons about the resurgance of nationalism in today's post-9/11 world." --Ottawa Citizen
"A shattering read." Men's Journal
"[A] dramatic, visually stunning tour-de-force." Kirkus Reviews
"Terrific...this novel's scale, its delight in detail, and its psychological insight make it an exceptionally satisfying adventure." Publishers Weekly
Selected as a Best Book of the Year by Globe & Mail, National Post, Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen, and others
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
By Steven Heighton
Random HouseSteven Heighton
All right reserved.
BURY ME AT SEA
But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by holding them up to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather be in Sumatra than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise along the line of the equator . . . go down to the fiery pit itself, in order to keep out this frost?
--Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Wanted to shadow the three of you, all scattered
by the one storm. Tracked you (or some sediment,
cinder of you) to churchyards along the seaboard
near Mystic, or indio graveyards above the gaunt
gorges of Sinaloa -- a search party of one, a mere
century-plus late. No, more -- with every resource
I searched, clue traced, a shade more of your oblivious
withdrawal, waning to ash, as I scrawled my course
(it seemed) ever nearer, through tiered detritus
downward, by the spadeful, a volunteer
unwilling to leave the warlike scene --
recovering just fragments, fallout, DNA.
--Dawson City, Yukon, September 2001
Hartford, Connecticut, September 1876
An Esquimau playing Mendelssohn is a tremendous novelty. The local gentry fill the seats of the Main Street Memorial Hall, whiskery gentlemen in frock coats and wing collars, the ladies in gowns and layer-cake hats trimmed with ribbon and mock flora. Their elegant figures are shored up by trusses or corsets -- synthetic exoskeletons fortified with whalebone. If any members of this audience make a connection between their own underclothes and the presence onstage of a child from the Arctic whaling grounds, they don't let on. They are effusive in their praise of the little Esquimau. She is clearly a prodigy. She is only ten years of age! She has been playing the piano for only three years! How charming she looks in her cream cotton dress with the puffed sleeves, the ends of her braids joined at the small of her back with a red ribbon bow. As they whisper and nod, a lush welling of self-appreciation and security warms their chests.
In fact, Punnie is not playing as well as she did when rehearsing for the recital with her teacher, Mr Chusley, who will be performing after her and before the chief attraction, a master recitalist from Leipzig who is said to have known Mendelssohn personally. This lean and tousled master, seated severely in the front row, will be aware that the girl has committed a few slips. What he doesn't know is that her playing also lacks its usual earnest, beguiling zest. Punnie is dizzy and has to concentrate to suppress the dry scraping cough that has been gaining on her since April. Throughout the summer holiday she has been practising, as much as four hours a day. There is something unnerving, quietly violent, in her discipline. She's the sort of only child who lives for the endorsement of adults. More and more these days she coughs while she rehearses. She and her parents, Tukulito and Ebierbing -- Hannah and Joe is how they are known to Americans -- came down from the Arctic after the rescue over three years ago, but the poor child still carries the Far North in her lungs. So Mr Chusley puts it. He even urges her to practise less.
Actually Punnie's cough began not in the Arctic but after their journey south.
Stiff in the aisle seat of a middle row, Tukulito sees that her daughter is struggling, but the audience is so caught up in the spectacle of this oddly pallid Esquimau child playing one of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words -- op. 30, no. 1 in E flat -- that they don't notice. Tukulito's face has the waxen stillness of somebody watching the last stages of a shipwreck, trying to contain her alarm -- a stillness that could be mistaken for calm. This is her usual expression. Only her eyes, sharp with practical understanding and quick sympathy, lend life to her face; enough life for a dozen faces.
In fact, the child is something of a prodigy. Mr Chusley, a soft little man with sombre brown eyes, rumpled clothes and clove-scented breath (and, unluckily for his dreams, stumpy hands and fingers), has said that he foresees fine fine things for the girl. Very fine indeed. And Tukulito grasps that this is not a man given to flattery. A stutterer, he keeps his utterances short. I've never yet tutored a child possessed of such a, such a faculty of silent concentration. Your Punnie seems to me utterly undistractable. Chusley does not then detour into ethnological conjecture, like some of the well-meaning Groton neighbours, on whether this is a specialized trait--a result of the savage's need for vigilance by the seal's breathing hole, or his wife's Oriental patience, acquired in the igloo waiting with the children for her mate's return. . . . For some years the life of the Esquimaux has gripped the romantic imagination. They've become a staple of polar adventure novels, which emphasize their fortitude, their loyalty, their stealth, their rare inscrutable lapses into cunning and violence. In the 1860s the fascination with Esquimaux even hatched a short-lived fad for duelling with bone harpoons. The Polaris debacle and Lieutenant Tyson's subsequent drift on the ice with eighteen other castaways have made them even more popular; Tukulito's husband Ebierbing was in some ways the hero of Tyson's published account of the drift (as Second Mate Kruger was its villain), and this Esquimau family have been celebrities since settling in the port town of Groton, Connecticut.
Tukulito still thinks about Mr Kruger but has not heard from him in some time.
The child is small for her age, no grand piano ever looked huger. She will start a piece straight-backed on the bench but as she plays she will tip gradually forward so that by the last bar her face is just above the keys. (Mr Chusley has tried to correct this.) Her playing is stronger now, op. 67, no. 5 in B minor, "The Shepherd's Complaint." Those firm-pacing, stately notes in the minor until, just as the ear is tiring of the solemnity, the tune resolves into major.
Excerpted from Afterlands by Steven Heighton
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
STEVEN HEIGHTON is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels Afterlands and The Shadow Boxer, a Mariner Original that was selected as a Publishers Weekly Book of the Year. He has also written several books of poetry, short fiction, and essays. His work has received numerous awards and has been translated into nine languages.
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